CDOT working to boost the size of its plow driver corps
'Road maintainers' are seen as first responders for snowstorms
With Colorado’s mountains on the doorstep of another winter, the Colorado Department of Transportation is working on both short- and long-term plans to keep traffic moving.
In a recent interview, Colorado Department of Transportation Director Shoshana Lew said the department is refining its efforts to get plow drivers — “road maintainers” in departmental parlance to reflect their status as first responders — working to keep the roads clear.
Staffing is “always a challenge,” Lew said, adding that the department is making progress along the state’s busiest interstate corridors and secondary roads including U.S. Highway 40 and State Highway 82.
There are new drivers around the state — 72 in the last year, Lew said. Another 30 or so are training and are nearly ready to start work.
Besides the new people, Lew said the department has asked for volunteers for surge duty, times when big storms require shifting drivers from one area to another. About 40 people answered the call, and are trained for that duty.
Surge duty comes with some perks, including what Lew called “generous” overtime pay.
All road maintainers require commercial driver licenses, a certification that’s in high demand. Lew said the department has worked to grow its own qualified drivers. People in other departments sometimes answer the call for new drivers. One person who had been an administrative assistant signed on to drive. She recently finished third in a skills competition. One driver’s spouse signed on for training, and is now part of the crew.
Learning the tricks
That training includes learning to drive in tandem with other trucks, and driving plows with extended blades that essentially take a double bite from a snowy road.
Margaret Bowes is the director of the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group made up of local governments and businesses along the mountain portion of the Interstate 70 corridor.
Bowes said she’s encouraged by the department’s efforts to boost its staffing.
Noting that staffing is a problem across virtually every industry in every part of the state, Bowes said “I think any little bit will help” in keeping enough drivers on the job. “It’s pretty critical that CDOT) has the staff they need to keep the interstate open.
But having drivers is just one part of keeping the highway flowing. Bowes noted that the coalition’s website, GoI70.com, provides real-time traffic information. The site also provides travel tips and transit options. Those options have expanded, with CDOT’s Pegasus transit service making frequent weekend runs from the Denver area to mountain destinations.
In addition to staffing, housing is another crucial part of filling the ranks of road maintainers.
‘Exciting’ housing hopes
Lew said there are “exciting” moves on that front.
Department human resources director Kristi Gitkind said the biggest immediate boost is housing stipends in addition to base pay. Those stipends start at $800 per month. The Eagle County stipend is $2,000 per month.
In addition, the department is working with other state agencies to build new housing.
Lew said the department is working on housing complexes for workers, with the first being in Fairplay. The Basalt area is also set for a housing complex. And, Lew said, the department is working with the State Land Board to put more housing in EagleVail adjacent to a department maintenance yard. Housing on the site is limited to just a few mobile homes now.
“We can fit a lot more density there,” Lew said, adding that the current plan calls for buying out current mobile homeowners. New employees also seem to want “more modern” housing,” Lew added.
While plowing roads is essential, Lew said keeping traffic flowing is a team effort. That means motorists and truckers.
State law requires commercial trucks to carry chains from essentially Labor Day to Memorial Day. State law also sets some potentially heavy penalties for those who block a lane due to either lack of chains or inadequate tires.
“It’s common sense,” Lew noted. “The snow stops and starts, so we all need to be ready.”
- 72: New “road maintainer” drivers added in the past year by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
- 33: Additional road maintainers will be ready in coming weeks.
- $44,000: Starting annual pay for a road maintainer.
- $2,000: New monthly housing stipend for CDOT employees in Eagle County.
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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